The Scientific Method is not the only form of empirical research

In this thread and this thread we have had some lunacy about empirical knowledge. Lets get some of this straight.

To follow the scientific method, one must:
[li]Collect empirical data[/li][li]Form a model capable of explaining existing data, and suggesting new data that can be expected[/li][li]Construct a hypothesis which, if false, will contradict the model[/li][li]Design a test which is capable of both verifying (not proving!) the hypothesis, and showing the hypothesis to be false[/li][li]Apply the test[/li][/ol]

This is not the only way of gaining empirical knowledge, but it is the most reliable.

Observation is empirical.
Observation with model forming is empirical, even if the model only has explanitory not predictive power.
Hypothesis and testing are empirical, even without model forming and prior data collection.

The point is, it is possible to gain knowledge through empiricism without strict application of the scientific method. Even poor application of the method can still be superior to no empirical investigation at all.

The logical error seems to be false dichotomies. We have folk arguing that something is either “faith” or “strict scientific method”. I’ve even heard those who argue that even “strict scientific method” requires “faith” elements. It isn’t a binary choice people! It’s a spectrum of reliablity, based on repeatability and predictive power.

I’m not entirely sure that there’s a topic for debate here, but there seems a level of learning about the basic tools of knowledge is necessary before we can even HAVE debate.

I swear, it’s as if there is this ginormous blind spot concerning a single word when this topic comes up. Nobody has a problem with faith, when it backed up by previous direct experience and history. It is blind faith that is the problem-faith in an idea or experience that has no direct experience and history.

I personally define faith as the disparity between the certainty that the evidence supports, and the certainty you’ve got. This neatly sidesteps most of the problems mentioned by explicitly taking the faith out of the scientific method and other emperical knowledge sources - to the degree that you restrict your belief to what those sources actually support, anyway.

When it’s backed up by previous direct experience and history, it 'aint faith. It’s observation. Faith is ALWAYS blind.

You can have faith when there isn’t evidence one way or another. You often need faith in order to commit resources to something - going on a second date, for one extreme, and spending money on an experiment for another. The blind part comes in when faith continues in the face of evidence, which is where a lot of religions are.

“Faith is believin’ what you know ain’t so.” – Mark Twain (I think)

What do you mean by knowledge, exactly?

The scientific method is good for testing explanations of things, which helps you to make predictions. While data gathering is an input, the knowledge you get from observing the natural world counts as research also, and certainly as part of science. So I agree with your premise, if I understand it correctly.

The scientific method, whether in a “strong” or “weak” form*, is the only reliable form of empirical research for reaching scientific conclusions. Completely different forms of empirical research are appropriate for reaching other kinds of conclusions, e.g., specific historical facts.

*Much scientific research consists of “stamp collecting,” not performing controlled experiments. E.g., observing, identifying and cataloging all species of spiders and their characteristics and behaviors. But it’s still scientific-method research.

I would say that you don’t need faith to commit those resources - you can instead be gambling. By my definition of it, if you know that you have only a small chance of success, but you feel the potential outcome is worth the risk, then you do not need to have faith that you will succeed to convince yourself to commit the resource. You merely need to acknowledge that you’re gambling and that you feel that the hoped-for benefits justify the risk of failure. If you can do this without lying to yourself about the odds, then no faith is being exercized.

And, in fact, a lot of good scientific research is done with the researchers expecting right from the start that they probably won’t get any interesting result out of it. It’s just that the payoffs are big enough, or the costs are low enough, that the chance is worth it.

That may be true, but in my experience people starting out on a project are far more sure of the outcome than a gambler is. And they don’t know the odds, which is the whole point. I’ve seen too many cases where people with a commitment in something continued it far beyond the point where an impartial person would say it made sense. Some of this was not wanting to tell the people who were funding it that it wasn’t working, but in one case those very people told us it wasn’t working, and offered a very nice path out of the project.

A gambler gambles many times, most of which are relatively low cost. Starting a project is something you don’t do that often, and will likely take years. I’m not sure anyone would do it if they didn’t have something resembling faith. I’ve had faith (and excitement) when I’ve started things.

The blind faith kicks in when the data comes in showing you were wrong. Fred Hoyle had blind faith, I think. So even that happens, but it is not positive and is not a part of the process.

Have some examples? I can imaging sending a grad student off to do some experiments needed to cover all the bases, but given competition for funding and tenure, who is going to waste a lot of time on something that probably won’t advance their career even if it works? Tiny little projects done while waiting for a big one, sure.

This is certainly a popular definition of faith, used by those on both sides of the theological fence. The problem is that “faith” is also still used in other ways where it still means something more like “trust” or “confidence” (or conversely “loyalty”, i.e., acting in a way which inspires trust or confidence). “A faithful friend” (or “a faithful dog”), remaining “faithful” to one’s spouse, “Full faith and credit shall be given in each state to the public acts, records, and judicial proceedings of every other state”. One does not, of course, have “faith” in one’s spouse, or friend, or dog, or in the liquidity and stability of the bonds issued by one’s government, based on this sort of theological blind faith. (Not even in your dog. If your dog growls and bites you every time you try to pet him, he probably isn’t your faithful companion.) All of those other uses of the word are based on previous experience and observation, and are also eminently falsifiable by subsequent experience. One has faith in one’s spouse based on the way that person has acted in the past; if you come home and catch him or her getting it on with an aerobics instructor or the pool boy, the “faith” dies pretty quickly. An investor might buy U.S. government securities because the United States has never defaulted on them; if the U.S. ever did default, much confidence would be lost around the world.

This confusion of usage raises a couple of problems. One is that it can lead to invidious implications that those who lack theological faith somehow lack the other kinds of faith–that the irreligious are mean, cynical people who trust no one (even to the ordinary extent one trusts other human beings) and that they themselves may be untrustworthy. It also leads to arguments for theological faith being made on bad analogies with ordinary “faith”; with a totally unempircal (and even anti-empirical) “faith in God” being equated with “faith in one’s loved ones” (that they truly love you), which belief entails a certain amount of trust–gosh, maybe your wife of 17 years is just running a really long con on you–but are nonetheless grounded in a lot of empirical experience.

And of course these ordinary trustings and confidences aren’t the result of “the Scientific Method”–few people set up experiments to confirm or disprove the hypothesis that their mother really loves them–but they are nonetheless based on actual experience (with some tragic and/or delusional exceptions).

Generally speaking, people suck at risk assessment, and are known to be optomistic in their erroneous risk assessment at times - but I differentiate this from having faith, until we reach the point that they are aware that they are being optomistic. If a person is expecting their two loaves and two fishes to make two thousand fish sandwitches, that might indeed be an act of faith hoping for a miracle - or it might just be a math error.

Look at this last case - how can this be faith? They didn’t believe it was working. Faith is about belief, and they didn’t have it.

There are a number of reasons why people might persist in a project once it becomes obvious it’s a loser - the most obvious one in my mind being that people don’t like admitting that they’re wrong. In a business enviornment this concession translates to an overt abandonment of all the time and money spent on the project to date; a waste that would stick in anyone’s craw.

Big gambles are gambles too - and maybe you’ve never started a large project without faith, but I’ve never started one with faith. (Or been involved with a project that seemed based in faith.) We draw timelines and assessments based on available data about our productivity and abilities, and the one time we significantly exceeded our deadlines it wasn’t because we’d gone in with starry-eyed faith in our ability to do miracles - it’s because our intial estimates were hasty and naive and generally sucked. Math error, in other words.

Faith is denial of reality, at least to the degree that you’re rejecting the cool-headed fact-based assessment of things. You don’t have to do this to gamble or start a project - and frankly I wouldn’t want to work on a project with a person who did. Talk about a recipe for failure!

What you’re calling “blind faith” sounds more like “knowing denial” - the difference between unjustified belief and belief that flies in the face of reason. I consider both kinds of belief to be “faith”, because that’s how the word is used (it’s impossible to have blind faith in a nonintervening god, because such a creature can’t be disproved, but nonetheless belief in such a god is “faith”), but obviously the “desperate denial” form of faith rates as more scornworthy in my book.

There are lots of reasons people make bad forecasts, but I think faith in this context is more when the odds can’t be accurately known.

The customers don’t have faith - the developers did. In this sort of project, the faith comes not from not realizing that it is not working, but thinking the next little enhancement or bug fix will make things wonderful, and the project will get widely accepted. It is a “build it and they will come” mentality.

That’s part of it, but isn’t that a part of religious faith also? Aren’t people heavily invested in a church going to have a hard time saying all those Sundays were misspent, unless something really drastic happens? What you are describing is loss aversion, which is very powerful, but faith can be a good cover for loss aversion, since it is a socially acceptable way of ignoring powerful counterarguments to what one believes.
We’ve all seen people right here in GD responding to evidence against something like creationism with “Well, I think” or “I believe” - as if that were a valid response. Pin them down, and no doubt they’d say that their faith is the reason for this. Clearly the concept of faith meshes well with some of the built-in irrationality we all share.

I think perhaps I wasn’t clear about the type of project I was discussing. There are many projects where success is pretty much a given, not counting budget and schedule. The projects we worked on were ones where the technical feasibility had to be demonstrated. It doesn’t take a lot of faith to get started building a new website or accounting system, but starting to develop a new microprocessor architecture which will be superior to all known does. The people who do well at this both keep their faith it is possible while being open to the problems found. A good process has gates where feasibility is reviewed by someone without faith. I have a lot of experience with doing and managing this kind of project.

I’ve been using faith in both these ways, so I agree. As for blind faith in a non-interventionist god, I agree that just believing in the existence of this god is the milder form of faith, but how about those who believe this god is almost proven by spurious first cause and structure of the universe arguments? I think they are getting closer to blind faith than the first bunch.

To repeat, I define faith as the difference in certainty between what is merited by the facts, and the amount of certainty you’ve got. If the odds can’t be accurately known…how inaccurately is that again? And how confident are you again?

If you like, I’ll admit that in some contexts optomism can be considered faith - when you choose to believe despite a clear lack of reason to. But choosing to act despite a lack of certainty is optomism too, and it isn’t faith if you recognize the chance of failure, but consider the potential reward worth the (potentially poorly assessed) risk. And I think that the latter happens easily as often as the former.

Right. Is this really common? I’d be scared to work with a team that thought this way.

Heh, when I hear a person arguing a “denail of reality” type of faith position (especially the ‘premptive discrediting of potentially opposing evidence, lest I be forced to admit something I don’t like’ type of argument), that suggests to me that they don’t really have faith in their beliefs. It tells me that at some level they know they’re full of shit, and are desperately denying reality to prevent from having to admit that their whole world is a lie and they’ve flushed huge swaths of their life down the toilet.

I suppose that in some parts of their mind these people have real faith, but only because other parts of their mind don’t believe and are desperately and actively trying to protect their house-of-cards beliefs from being blown apart by the cruel winds of truth.

The question is, what’s the evidence that it’s not possible? If something can be reasonably within the realm of probability, then you don’t need faith to continue to believe it might be possible.

I suppose that a person with some small amount of non-denial-level/non-blind faith might be handy to have around to keep morale up, or something - but too much of that and you’re not going to to be able to be open to problems found.

Personally I suspect what we’re talking about wouldn’t meet my description of “faith” at all - it would, at most, be a person who had a level of belief at the higher level of rational ranges (which you have to exceed to count as faith to me). For most beliefs, there’s not a precise point that is the single level of rational confidence you can hold; depending on factors such as your level of concern about risk and potential costs, there’s a range of belief a person can have without departing from reality. So I suspect your ‘faith-free’ reviewers are simply people with a greater concern for the effects of failure, where the others are simply focused on the chance of success.

Well…they might just be ignorant. Some of these arguments can actually look convincing at first glance, if you don’t think too hard about them.

When a person starts ignoring or fraudulently rejecting counterarguments, though, the stench of blind desperation begins to fill the room…

I’ve been using faith in both the sense of believing in something without evidence as well as believing against evidence. It isn’t quite optimism, since some people have faith that something is not going to work.

Very common where I used to work, where the perpetual budget crisis meant that people held onto funded projects until the eagle grinned. I ran big projects, but a lot of people had a ton of little half man year projects, which were both volatile and hard to manage.
I was involved in an effort to create a project management process that would allow MTS who knew that their projects weren’t working to force their bosses to recognize it. We had success in one case when AT&T exploded and everyone, including me, left.

I think a lot of these people just don’t hear the contending evidence. As Paul Simon said “A man hears what he wants to hear, and disregards the rest.”
The question is, what’s the evidence that it’s not possible? If something can be reasonably within the realm of probability, then you don’t need faith to continue to believe it might be possible.

This matches my usage well enough, I think. Obviously unjustified certainty of something’s untruth is none too dissimilar that unjustified certainty in something’s truth.

Sounds to me like they just wanted to keep the funding, but I may not be understanding.

Of course, if I start splitting hairs too far, I may uproot any definition of faith, because surely everyone who holds unjustified belief has some reason for doing so, and there’s not all that much difference between “because they want to keep their funding” and “because they want to keep thinking they’re loved by a God”, from a motivational point of view. So I may have to back down here and concede that somebody could construct themselves faith in a loser project - though obviously for it to count they have to have actually convinced themselves it has a chance, and not just be exaggerating it to other people without believing it themselves.

It may be relevent that I’m usually debating against Mormons. :smiley: And even more conventional Christians believe lots of stuff that’s falsifiable - it’s not like they believe in a noninterventionalist god, after all.

And seriously, we’re talking about cases where people will deny anything, if there’s even a hint that I might be trying to use it to discredit their faith. In one debate I was told that christianity preceded Judaism, and when I pointed out that you wouldn’t be able to find any historian who would agree with that, the response was to completely dismiss the credibility of any historians who might claim to be knowledgeable on the subject. That’s not selective hearing, that’s active denial. And pretty desperate denial at that.

You and I have disagreed on some matters before, but I really like this!

Those are not examples of faith, except colloquially. They are decisions made in with incomplete information, but there is certainly empirical information involved in both cases.